Friday 2 September 2011
Top Tip 10: Dominant Respondents – what to do!
There is simply no place for the dominant respondent in a well facilitated group. It shouldn’t happen. But it does. The reason it happens is due to many things:
- In the first minutes of the group, people are nervous – some react by keeping quiet, others by ‘blurting’. It is quite usual that one group member is more outgoing and forward than others. If the moderator does not deal with this immediately, it may be interpreted by the talkative one – and the group itself – as tacit acceptance that this person will occupy first place in the pecking order and will speak first on every occasion. These things happen in seconds at the start of a group.
- Another reason is that forming procedures have not been handled right. Under pressure from the brief, it is far too common to barge straight into the topic. Very often the product, service or advertising makes it into the room before the people!
- Due to the lack of invitation and participation, a democratic level playing field has not been created. No emphasis has been put on the importance of including all views in the conversation and that the moderator will support and seek out anyone trapped in silence by nerves or shyness. Even if the moderator has done a two-minute spiel, talking about how important everyone is – he has not demonstrated that – and respondents will respond to what he does, not what he says.
- Another factor is the lack of listening – and lack of attention to listening in the group. If people think that their job is to speak, then those who are interested in power and status will be hard to stop – after all that seems to be the way Brownie Points are gained here. Not only that, people will not actively listen to others. They will simply wait for their turn to speak. This can be overcome by doing an introduction process in which everyone has to introduce someone else, after listening to them in a paired conversation for a few moments.
- Social loafing is common in focus groups. Make no mistake, your participants know they are being paid for their time. There is a professional transaction underlying their attendance. Some people like to do as little as possible for their money! Some moderators too!
- Production blocking is another regular feature and can be heightened by verbose types. Some quieter members will feel ‘blocked’ by the interruptions and rapidity of the responses from the eager, talkative members. This will drive them further into the background and they may need the moderator’s support in coming forward.
- Groups that are too topic focused and full of questions will lack affect (emotional depth). Such groups are hard to listen to for everyone, energy flags, responses become routine, process dominates and everyone wants to get to the end. In these circumstances a group can feel grateful to a dominant mouthpiece – at least he keeps the thing going! Make sure activities & pace are varied and that people get to be themselves in several different ways during the group.
- A group member might feel that they have genuine, unique, in-depth experience or knowledge of your topic. You have to make a judgment call on whether to allow this kind of ‘dominance’ – based as it is on larger capability. It will have effects on the feelings of the other members, but you can ameliorate these by thanking them for their listening and asking for their input immediately afterwards.
How to Set Up the Group
Introduce yourself NOT THE TOPIC, and let the group members know that you will ensure fairness, equality of opportunity and inclusion in the session. At this point people should precede products! If you are nervous about dominant respondents – or have an anxious client behind the mirror who worries about this – say something like: “I am keen to hear from all of you and will challenge you if you take up more than your share of space to an extent that prevents others. I understand that people get carried away and I will step in if that happens too much. I won’t allow bullying or overtalking or cutting off other people’s heads to make yourself look taller.”
Next you need a go round to give everyone an equal opening to speak – preferably on a subject that is important to them – like ‘what is the biggest thing in your life at the moment’ – rather than small talk about products or usage. This ensures that they arrive in the room – as themselves, not ‘users’ or ‘lapsed users’ or ‘potential users’.
Here is an example, following on from the remarks above:
“Having said that, I do want you to feel free to share your thoughts and feelings and for us all to have the chance. Let’s practice now, by introducing ourselves to the group by talking about something that’s very much on your mind today. It doesn’t have to be about the commercial topic, I’ll brief you on that in a moment. I will go first to give you an example of the kind of thing I mean.
Then the moderator introduces h/herself at the level that h/she wishes other people to share themselves. Model the kind of behaviour that you want in the group. You are the leader, others will follow you. Being a table rasa (blank observer) will frighten people and flatten your group. Also, make no mistake about it, you have a duty of care to these people.
Once people have brought themselves to the room via their introductions you should set the Primary Task: ‘we are here this evening to….’ And give the group some information about the activities and styles of work you anticipate. Also give them reassurance about time. ‘We will end at…’ They will be worrying about it even if you are not.
Now you’re ready to go. It is twenty minutes or so into the session. Rock on.
Posted by roy at 10:28 am. No comments
Qualitative work was founded on the idea of making contact with people in greater depth. This website contains ideas, tips and techniques on how to do that well. It also contains things that I feel passionately about which affect our daily lives!
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